China Fashion Week Brings Face Masks to the Runway

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China Fashion Week got very real about China's air pollution problem. 

During what's usually a glamorous, enchanting and unreal nine-day event in Beijing, a few fashion designers decided to incorporate an accessory all too familiar with the country's inhabitants: face masks. 

Source: STR/Getty Images
Source: STR/Getty Images

At the ILOVECHOC Wei Chao Collection show Wednesday, models stomped down the runway in two varieties of protective gear: surgical face masks, and a headpiece that resembled something a beekeeper would wear. 

The fashion statements reflect a sobering reality for China's urban dwellers and the country's rising air pollution problem. According to a recent study, air pollution in China kills about 4,000 people every day. That's had a clear, practical impact, as face masks become a norm on city streets in China. 

As for how that was interpreted on the runway this week, the ILOVECHOC Wei Chao models had to walk through a cloud of "smog" on the catwalk; one of the masks even had a drawing of a hand over it, suggesting silence or self-protection. 

It's dystopian fashion at its most obvious, with some models donning protective plastic skirts, bags and backpacks. Another model walked with gloves and a sweatshirt emulative of a hazmat suit. 

Source: STR/Getty Images
Source: STR/Getty Images

ILOVECHOC wasn't the only show with a clinical — and seemingly cynical — tilt. On Tuesday, models paraded creations from the IM International 2015 Graduates' Collection, which included face masks adorned with animated drawings. 

It was a more light-hearted approach, yet one that still called attention to the polluted world we, especially those in China, live in today. 

Source: STR/Getty Images
Source: STR/Getty Images

Face masks during China Fashion Week is nothing new, either. In 2014, during a China Fashion Week show for QIAODAN Yin Peng Sports Wear Collection, the designs incorporated industrial-looking, pollution-blocking masks with sportswear. Earlier this year, Chinese designer Masha Ma put crystal-studded masks on her models at Paris Fashion Week.

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At this point, China's air pollution has become a deadly, urgent problem. For some, putting masks on the runway may be a strong political critique; for others, it merely reflects a practical reality and recognizes a market when it sees one. As Reuters reported, face masks have become a "multimillion-dollar industry" as pollution worsens.

For some Chinese designers, that means turning a real-life dilemma into a stylish opportunity. Several designers, including Masha Ma, collaborated with major online retailer Yoox last year for a eco-friendly collection of designer face masks, with proceeds going to environmental groups. Might as well use fashion to make a difference.